Chile’s students recall their 9/11

“The forgotten past is full of memory” is the inscription on the wall of the disappeared in Chil.

On September 11, the world will remember the ordinary people who died in the 2001 terror attack on the United States.

But for Latin Americans (and Russians with a long memory), the date has another meaning, too: September 11 was the day in 1973 when a brutal U.S.-backed coup overthrew Chile’s democratically-elected socialist leader, Salvador Allende.

The “Iron Heel” rule of rightwing dictator Augusto Pinochet that followed unleashed 17 years of terror and mass executions on the country’s people. During that era, Pinochet once boasted that he controlled “every leaf that falls from a tree.”

This summer hundreds of thousands of children and grandchildren of those who lived in that terrible time, free of fear and apathy, have been taking to the streets every day for three months. Campaigning against vicious neo-liberal education cuts, they are once more raising the banner of Allende, a humanist, idealist and leader who dreamed of a “Chilean path to socialism.”

Students are demanding, as University of Chile student leader Camila Vallejo put it: “a change of the political and economic system, a fairer redistribution of power and wealth… and that education be a universal right guaranteed by the state and the education system more affordable, diverse and democratic.”

This is the dream that Allende sought to realize on his election in 1970. He immediately launched reforms in education and healthcare, which upset the country’s oligarchs. Allende allowed employees of stateowned companies to play a greater role in management decisions. It is a little-known fact that he was also a new technology pioneer – Chile’s Cybersyn system went far beyond the first attempts of the U.S. government to create the Internet.

With assistance from Stafford Beer, one of the founders of cybernetics, engineers at Chile’s Technological Institute used the “Viable System Model” to connect 51 stateowned companies into a network. The system was designed to send and receive information, enabling employees to take part in decisionmaking on everyday production problems. But as it was about to be put into operation, the coup took place, and the military destroyed the system as a “Communist disease.”

Allende sought help from sympathetic Soviet leaders, signing a deal during a 1972 visit to Moscow for a $100 million loan and on restructuring Chile’s foreign debt. The Soviets also signed up to trade, industry and training agreements, and after the coup, many Chilean specialists stayed in the USSR.

In Washington, President Richard Nixon was determined to not to allow Allende’s socialist experiment in what he regarded as the U.S.’s backyard. Nixon ordered a campaign of economic terror, encapsulated in his infamous order: “Make the Chilean economy scream.”

Under Henry Kissinger’s guidance, the U.S. organized sabotage in Chile with a view to overthrowing Allende. Trucking firms were paid $10 million by the CIA in 1972 to bring all transportation in the country to a halt.

Later, the CIA gave lists of Allende’s supporters to Pinochet, and Chile’s oligarchs and the country’s Christian Democratic Party supported the military.

Pinochet’s reign of terror claimed 60,000 victims (including illegally detained, tortured, executed and missing), according to a recent report by the National Commission on Political Imprisonment and Torture.

Pinochet’s special torture methods included the “dragon’s chair” (a modified electric chair) invented by former FBI agent Dan Mitrione; dogs made to rape women; and rats let loose on prisoners. Prisoners considered especially dangerous were given drugs, tied to a rail and thrown into a river or the ocean.

Chile’s economy was put into the hands of Milton Friedman’s neo-liberal “Chicago Boys,” whose goal was to privatize and globalize the Chilean economy and to scrap Allende’s reforms.

In 1990, Chile timidly returned to democracy, but retained Pinochet’s neo-liberal economics and unconditional support for the U.S. The country achieved economic growth, but at the cost of a huge gap between rich and poor. In the late 1990s, Chile became the first Latin American country to adopt the Bologna Accords, a World Bank/ UNESCO program aimed at making education more market-oriented.

The privatization of education in Chile has now gone so far that 80 percent of students attend private schools and colleges. Out of 940,000 students at universities and vocational schools, only 162,000 can study for free, and this number continues to decline. Seventy percent of Chilean students now have to take out loans to pay for their tuition, and as many as 65 percent of poorer students do not complete university.

As a result, hundreds of thousands of Chile’s students, with support from their families, have taken up the slogans: “From class to class struggle!” and “Down with the Pinochet education system!”

Municipal elections next year may prove decisive for the country’s political future, as Chile’s young people are getting more confident and rediscovering the ideas of democratic socialism championed by Allende.

Read other articles of the print issue “The Moscow News #69”

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